Summary

A Summary of Insights for Consideration

One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns – about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering – in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. 
– Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Jesus was many things, but in the viewpoint of a plain spoken theology, he was very much an awakener, a wisdom teacher, and a radical. I understand the core of his teachings to be rooted in the following:

1. Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was now – we need not wait for its arrival, rather we can make it a concrete reality today if live a way of life rooted in love, compassion, and justice.

2. The Kingdom of God is embodied by living in subversive, peaceful opposition to the Imperial Rule of Rome and our own forms of empire today. Empire is the metaphor for the dehumanizing power structures and oppressive, violent practices that emerge when humans seek to exploit and control others.

3. The meaning of life, the way of wholeness, is found in loving your neighbor as yourself –  a fundamental attitude of self giving (kenosis) and a recognition that we become what we give ourselves to.

4. Authentic religion rejects legalism, ceremonialism, moralism, and literalism. For Jesus, this meant a rethinking of Judaism, moving it away from legalistic understandings of status, tribe, observance, and ritual and toward mercy, transformation of self, and social justice – concepts already present in the Jewish tradition.

The following affirmations provide a sense of the foundational parameters of a plain spoken Christian theology (Hat tip, 8 Points of Progressive Christianity):

1. Affirm that conforming our lives to teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness of the sacred character and the interconnectedness of all life.

2.  Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the sacredness and interconnectedness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources and traditions of wisdom in our spiritual journey.

3.  Affirm the establishment of organic communities inclusive of all people of good will.

4.  Affirm the importance of theology, but recognize that how we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe.

5. Affirm that holiness is primarily wholeness and is not found in moralism, legalism, or literalism – that moral purity, theological finesse, or ceremonial perfection are not essential to a meaningful and valid spiritual life.

6. Affirm that deity, religious text, and religious authority do not impose morality; rather it is an integral part of our natural identity. Right human behavior is predicated on human flourishing and empathetic reciprocity, conveyed in the core truth of love your neighbor as yourselfOur motivation for virtue is a matter of our own integrity, following the logic of our very being.

7.  Affirm the spiritual/religious freedom of each individual and encourage all to engage in a free and responsible pursuit of the truth – aided by the tradition, their community, and all of human learning.

8.  Affirm the priority of peace and justice among all people, working toward a culture affirms the dignity of all life and strives to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth.

For Christianity to regain vibrancy in the contemporary age, I am convinced that  a revisioning of aspects of Christian theology and praxis is necessary:

1. Produce an evidence-based theological approach that balances mythopoetic, metaphorical thinking, understanding of allegory, symbol, and ritual with solid scholarship of all kinds. This is a broad call for the Christian religious imagination to be transformed by a courageous encounter with reason and learning. 

2. A renewed understanding of the nature of divinity which aligns with the best of human understanding and science, as well as the best of human religious imagination, myth, and poetry.

3. A vigorous proclamation and defense of human dignity that opposes the dehumanizing forces of empire, secularism, and nihilism.

4. Continued refinement of our understanding of Jesus of Nazareth, applying insights from Historical Jesus scholarship, hermeneutics, and cutting edge textual scholarship.

5. Moving beyond problematic notions of original sin and substitutionary atonement that reduce Jesus to a human sacrifice.

6. Making Jesus’ rejection of moralism, legalism, and literalism – all of which tempt us to build walls, control others, and establish abusive power structures – central to our understanding of Christian practice and communal organization.  

7. A deemphasis on institutional structures, denominational identity, clericalism, and American-style, 20th Century “church”, instead favoring organic community, sacramental living, and local transformation.

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A plain spoken understanding of Christianity talks about it as a path of personal transformation through love and restoring the world with justice and compassion. At the heart of Christianity is kenotic love (the Cross) freeing ourselves from the conditioning that keeps us from being a blessing to all the families of the earth, human and otherwise.

Christianity calls us to build a new order of love – the Kingdom. The values of this Kingdom are mercy, justice, equality, freedom, and kindness. Its vision is of a world of peace accomplished through justice where the dignity of all is affirmed.

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Join the Conversation

I understand theology to be at its best when it is open to criticism and input from others. Therefore, I plan to continually revise this work as part of an ongoing conversation with  those who kindly take the time to read and engage my work. My intention is to publish a longer, book length, more scholarly treatment of the same. 

I welcome you to read through the subsequent pages which can be found in the drop down menu under Ministry on the mainpage or by simply clicking the Next Section link at the bottom of each page as you continue reading. 

Please feel free to reach out to me at gregoryingrandrapids@gmail.com.